LSM-ONLINE-LOGO2JPG.jpg (4855 bytes)


Back Issues
LSM Issues
LSV Issues

Throat Doctor
Concert Reviews
CD Critics
Books Reviews
PDF Files


About LSM
LSM News
Guest Book
Contact Us
Site Search
Web Search

La Scena Musicale Online Reviews and News / Critiques et Nouvelles

Visit La Scena Musicale Online Reviews. [Index] Critiques de La Scena Musicale Online

Icelandic opera Grettir a fanciful twist to a gruesome Nordic saga

By Joseph So January 12, 2006

Even among the most inveterate opera buffs, few could claim to have had the opportunity to see and hear an Iceland opera. Thanks to New Music Concerts and funding agencies from Canada and Iceland, two performances of Grettir took place at the Betty Oliphant Theatre in Toronto Sunday. Originally written for the Bayreuth Young Artists Festival in 2004, this chamber work for five singers and eight musicians gives a typical blood-and-guts Nordic tale a fairytale ending suitable for audiences of all ages. For the afternoon performance I attended, the turnout in the intimate space was respectable, and I understand the evening performance played to a full house. Marking the occasion was the presence of Markus Örn Antonsson, the Icelandic Ambassador to Canada. Having composed works for flutist Robert Aitken, the composer Thorkell Sigurbjörnsson has a special connection to the Canadian music scene. New Music Concerts first performed his pieces during a European tour in 1976 and gave the premiere of Solstice at the Nordic Music Days Festival in Reykjavik.

To have the composer on hand to talk about his work is always special. Introduced by Aitken, Thorkell Sigurbjörnsson gave a précis of the story, and it became clear that the opera is not about Grettir at all, but a retelling of his story by his half-brother Dromund. Grettir, according to the legend, took place in Iceland around 1000 AD. Despite the typically gruesome nature of killings and revenge, Bödvar Gudmundsson's libretto has given the story fairytale lightness, its happy ending surely a rare happening in Nordic stories. Sigurbjörnsson has an interesting and distinctive musical idiom, tonal and accessible but not 'old fashioned'. The work is in three acts performed with one intermission. Its musical structure is quite traditional, with 'arias', duets, trios and quartets, plus brief moments of orchestral expositions. Conductor Gudmundur Emilsson gave a thoroughly assured and eloquent reading, played marvellously well by the young musicians. There was liberal use of sound effects, either from the pit or pre-recorded. Sung in English by Icelandic singers with excellent diction, the libretto came through with clarity. The set is simple, dominated by a cleverly draped, translucent heavy plastic, forming a backdrop with a tunnel effect enhanced by ingenious lighting. Also on stage is a large white ash tree log serving variously as a piece of furniture and an elevated platform. Director Sveinn Einarsson worked with imagination and succeeded in bringing out the best in the youthful cast. Soprano Regina Unnur Olafsdottir (Spes) sang with slender tone but has the archetypical Nordic good looks to be a credible heroine. Her sidekick/maid Elja was taken with aplomb by mezzo Dóra Steinunn Ármannsdóttir, who gamely tackled the extreme low notes she had to sing. As the hero Dromund, Bragi Bergthorsson combined a pleasant tenor with a warm stage presence.

Canadians will have an opportunity to hear another opera with an Icelandic theme. The Vinland Traveller, written by one of our own, Newfoundland composer Dean Burry, will tour Newfoundland and Labrador in spring 2006.

Visit La Scena Musicale Online Reviews. [Index] Critiques de La Scena Musicale Online

(c) La Scena Musicale 2000